Opinion: Which side are we on?

RBS logoAllegations have recently come to light that RBS engaged in a programme of ‘deliberately wrecking small businesses’ in order to seize their assets on the cheap and boost their own profits. The case is another story in which we, the public, are shocked but not surprised. The response of the government and, in particular, Vince Cable will be watched very closely indeed.

It is interesting to view this story in the light of other recent events.

Take the sale of a student loans book to an investment consortium at a price that significantly undercuts its estimated value, for example. It is a case where public perception is absolutely vital. Perhaps there is a good reason for this, but it is difficult to see what that reason might be beyond, at best, making a short term gain at the cost of forfeiting a bigger pay off in the long term. At worst it is a brazen attempt to keep the City on the side of the government, with little concern for the rest of the country. And therein lies the problem: whether or not it’s true, the general public perceives it to be the latter. I for one struggle to see what we have to gain by selling £900m worth of public debt for less than a fifth of that price to a private organisation motivated solely by profit. Perhaps I am being economically illiterate here; perhaps the better educated in money matters can see something that I am missing, but my perception is that the sums simply don’t add up in a way that will benefit the general public.

The same arguments apply for the privatisation of the Royal Mail.

This is true of many other policies. Quantitative Easing, for instance, has so far pumped £375bn into banks, insurance companies and pension funds. People like me cannot understand why this is supposedly sound economic logic, while putting £1000 into the bank account of every adult in the country is not. If that £375bn is supposed to trickle down, why not cut out the middle man? If it is not, then it is surely just lining the pockets of the already rich. I assume I must be missing something, but the government is doing a poor job of showing me exactly what that is.

And this is where we return to the RBS case. In order to regain the trust of the public, the Liberal Democrats must be seen to be on the side of the horribly clichéd ‘ordinary person’. Tinkering around the edges here will not be enough. There must be decisive action to demonstrate that those small businesses that were forced into bankruptcy did not do so in vain. This is important, not only in the interest of fairness, but in the interest of clawing back the reputation of a political party that is increasingly seen as irrelevant by a large proportion of the public.

At present, my perception is that the party is leaning far more in the direction of ‘Liberal’ (with a capital ‘L’) than ‘Democrat’. If that is where the party decides it wants to go, then that is fine, but I shall not go with it. I want to support a party that is on my side. So does the public. It’s time for those in power to show which side they’re on.

* David Gray is a musician, actor and writer based in Birmingham

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57 Comments

  • jenny barnes 26th Nov '13 - 9:10am

    The LDs in government are on the side of capital, not people. Everything they have done, just about, proves it.

  • Like David and Jenny, all I see from Lib Dems in Government is a reversal of our values as a Party. Over the weekend, I heard a passionate defence of the Government, and the Lib Dems within it, from one of our junior frontbenchers. I have to say, I still find the idea that there was any absolute necessity for the Lib Dems in 2010 to take the view that “we were a second Greece” (to his credit, not an argument put forward by this junior minister) or that the national financial situation necessitated us to take a part in a coalition which it seems could not make advances consistent with Lib Dem values. I know that my views are coloured by the fact that I think the Party’s establishment had been on a rightward journey since at least 2006, and probably earlier. Unfortunately, many of the policies superseding earlier economic policies, eg the dropping of “1p on Income Tax for education”, which was never bold enough for my liking anyway, and the dropping of local income tax, along with the adoption of this daft and insufficiently progressive raising of Income Tax threshold, deprives our representatives at all levels of governance of any spending power to make significant difference to the position of the poor and vulnerable in our society. This gifts those who would scapegoat all sorts of vulnerable groups, those who look or sound different, those who have disabilities, the young, the unemployed with a ready weapon. This in turn forces those who would help, such as the Lib Dems on to the defensive, and has resulted in significant moves away from social liberalism or democracy by our parliamentarians.

    Under Thatcher, we massively criticised the “There is No Alternative” (TINA) approach. We have, sadly, become part of that approach. Until our parliamentarians acquire some resistance to this, we as a party will go precisely nowhere, and the desire for a radical alternative will be left unmet. In the past we have offered that alternative. The position we have reached now is tragic.

  • Sorry – overlong sentence unfinished. I find it unproved, that the Lib Dems needed to join this type of Coalition because the financial crisis was so severe.

  • Gwyn Williams 26th Nov '13 - 10:16am

    Twenty five years ago my bank manager warned me that his successor would be a salesman. His opinion was that banking was changing for the worst. Banks had spent a century building public trust and were going to cash in on it. Every forecast he made has turned into a prediction.

    Was the Treasury aware of what RBS was doing? If the Business Minister had been a laissez-faire Tory would we have been told about this scandal? Even in the deepest pit of Liberal introspection Vince’s intervention can only be for good.

  • Was the Treasury aware of what RBS was doing?
    This ‘revelation’, has been swimming in the blogosphere for over 12 months, for those willing to research.
    http://hat4uk.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/breaking-rbs-faces-massive-rape-of-smes-scandal/
    Did Vince know about this scandal, 12 months ago? Does the pope do a good mass?

  • David Gray writes a good piece here, especially when he writes –
    “Quantitative Easing, for instance, has so far pumped £375bn into banks, insurance companies and pension funds. People like me cannot understand why this is supposedly sound economic logic, while putting £1000 into the bank account of every adult in the country is not. If that £375bn is supposed to trickle down, why not cut out the middle man? If it is not, then it is surely just lining the pockets of the already rich. ”

    What is behind this ” lining the pockets of the already rich ” ?

    Is it because Clegg and those Tories with whom he spends so much time are themselves rich and cannot therefore see any problem with lining the pockets of the already rich?
    Or is it that Clegg thinks he is the leader of a Centre Party and is moving in neither a Liberal nor a Democrat direction?
    Or is it that Clegg is not up to the job?

  • Simon McGrath 26th Nov '13 - 12:26pm

    @ David Gray ” Perhaps I am being economically illiterate here; perhaps the better educated in money matters can see something that I am missing, but my perception is that the sums simply don’t add up in a way that will benefit the general public.”

    Yes you are being economically illiterate. you are confusing the face value of the loans with how much might be got back and the time value of money. Only 14% of people are paying back their loans properly, 46% are below the earnings threshold and 40% are not repaying as much as their should. In addition money recieved in the future is worth less than money now.

    You havent understood QE either.

  • Simon McGrath 26th Nov ’13 – 12:26pm

    So what is your what on the substance of what David Gray has written?
    Can we take it that you are on the side of the bankers with the well-lined pockets?

  • Simon – in many ways, that is exactly the point I’m making. The vast majority of the population in this country are not economists. But at the same time we will not accept the argument of ‘Trust us, we’re politicians’. They need to put forward their case on QE and student loans. On the latter, my reasoning for the sums not adding up is that, somewhere along the line, the private investors will make a profit (guaranteed by the suggested ‘synthetic hedge’). So to me it stands to reason that those profits are effectively being channelled away from the taxpayer. Utterly illogical.

    It’s the ‘We know best’ attitude that puts people of politics – my point was as much about perception as it was about actual policy.

    The comments above as well as the views of Lib Dems I have spoken to suggest that the grassroots of the party is well to the left of the high command. And if it isn’t, it’s because those on the left of the party have abandoned it and left a rump of Orange Book economic liberals.

  • Christine Headley 26th Nov '13 - 2:32pm

    If the Cabinet Secretary says to you, ‘if you don’t join a coalition, the pound is toast’, would you really risk it and subsequent annihilation at a second general election (which you can’t afford anyway)?

    However, in the light of this experience, I am unlikely to favour a coalition with anyone after the next election. Assuming we aren’t annihilated then….. But even if we are, we have done some good things that the Tories wouldn’t have thought of without us. Even if not enough, in my view.

  • William and Christine, I agreed with the decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives – there weren’t really any other options. But what worries me is the willingness to go along with a lot of centre-right, illiberal policies. It seems as if the party is losing its identity. Even if you disagree with this, there is no point in pretending that there is no problem in terms of how the party is perceived by the wider public.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Nov '13 - 3:15pm

    I don’t think we need to pick sides across the board. It needs to be on a case by case basis.

    You do mention some good points – Royal Mail was a disaster and I think the Bank of England has taken over the job of the private banks and is running riot in the City with hardly any oversight and doing as much damage. One of our MPs needs to get some second opinions on Mark Carney’s strategy.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Nov '13 - 3:19pm

    Oh and I don’t like the sound of privatising the student loan book (not because I’m against privatisation, but because I’ve lost confidence in the government to get a good price for anything unless they apologise for Royal Mail). The banking shares are next – there is absolutely no reason that these need to be sold before the election and if you tell a buyer that you really want to sell and you’ve already decided what you want to spend the money on and when, then you’ll get a rubbish price.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Nov '13 - 3:44pm

    And I agree speaking out on the side of small businesses who RBS have deliberately wrecked (if true) is a formality for any party. However, I disagree with picking sides in general – as a centrist/moderate there is no surprise here.

    As a struggling small business owner I would fit the target market of “the people”, but any party that tries to start a class war immediately puts me off. It’s just a difference of opinion, but picking sides inevitably creates conflict.

  • jenny barnes 26th Nov '13 - 4:07pm

    eddie “any party that tries to start a class war “… It’s only called class war if you fight back. As it is, the rich are fighting a class war, and winning.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov '13 - 5:07pm

    William Hobhouse

    We’re in Coalition, and it is our Coalition partners who have the strong link to financial interests. Why is the knee jerk reaction to blame the Lib Dems?

    Yes, a lot of the attacks on the Liberal Democrats are unfair – I’ve frequently defended the formation of the coalition and the weakness of the Liberal Democrats within it, because it is a result of the decision of the people to give more votes to the Conservatives than to the Liberal Democrats and of the electoral system, whose preservation the people of this country backed by two to one after a campaign in which the victorious side put the distortion in favour of the largest party and against third parties as its best feature. That distortion, the one backed by the people and by most senior members of the Labour Party who aired an opinion on it, was enough to rule out a Labour-LibDem coalition as unviable because it would not have had a majority. That doesn’t mean I LIKE the coalition, in fact I hate it and what it is doing. I just accept it as what the people voted for, most especially in the 2011 referendum when they backed, by two-to-one, the electoral system which distorted representation and so gave it to us in its Tory-dominated form.

    However, this defence is undermined by almost everything the leader of the Liberal Democrats has said and done since the formation of the coalition. When one reads stuff like this, Clegg’s latest “Letter from the Leader”, one can hardly blame people for supposing that the Liberal Democrats are at one with the Conservatives in backing the arguments put by the big corporations as to why they and their leaders should get huge amounts of money for what they do and everyone else should suffer in order to support that.

    In that letter, Clegg puts being in the “centre” as being opposed to tax breaks for married couples and being opposed to public advertising aimed at illegal immigrants. He says NOTHING which suggests that it might also mean being sceptical about bending over backwards to meet the demands of the leaders of the big corporations. Indeed, in echoing the sort of language they tend to use to defend their not being asked to give more of their wealth to the good of the country with his “the state forever looking over your shoulder” given as his prime definition of liberalism, he seems very much to be lining us up alongside them, as uncritical supporters of what they say.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Nov '13 - 5:12pm

    Jenny, I understand and respect that opinion, I just don’t agree with it (in its entirety).

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov '13 - 5:17pm

    David Gray

    At present, my perception is that the party is leaning far more in the direction of ‘Liberal’ (with a capital ‘L’) than ‘Democrat’. If that is where the party decides it wants to go, then that is fine, but I shall not go with it.

    This is RUBBISH, David, complete and utter RUBBISH.

    I agree with your concern about the direction of the party, but when you label that as “‘Liberal’ (with a capital ‘L’)” you DEEPLY insult me, and many others, who have been proud to call ourselves ‘Liberal’ and never meant by that what you seem to be using the word to mean.

    When I joined the Liberal Party in 1978, and when I voted against its merger with the SDP in 1987, I did NOT think of ‘Liberal’ as meaning “an uncritical supporter of the super-rich”, and it was not. Indeed, many of us who voted against merger with the SDP did so because we saw elements of simplistic “cash markets are the answer to everything: thinking growing in that party.

    If you believe that ‘Liberal’ means primarily “a supporter of free market economics” and that the pre-merger Liberal Party was primarily about that, David, you have been fooled by the propaganda merchants who have been trying to rewrite history to get you to believe that. It is like something out of Orwell’s 1984, your words suggest you believe something that I know, because I was there, to be COMPLETELY UNTRUE.

    Are you ashamed of that? You ought to be.

  • You are absolutely right in your last comment Matthew, but cut David a bit of slack – he obviously wasn’t around in the 70s. I know it is frustrating that people get hoodwinked by the re-writing of history, and you have done an admirable job in plugging away at putting a more accurate version back into the public domain on this site, but getting aggressive about it probably won’t encourage people to look at the history books – and unfortunately those of us who were there increasingly seem to be history.

  • Paul in Twickenham 26th Nov '13 - 8:52pm

    @Matthew Huntbach – indeed. A few days ago Boris Johnson told us that we should all be down on our knees thanking the super-rich for the noblesse oblige they show by paying some tax. Perhaps he would have been better to consider the broader consequences when extreme wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite at the expense of the majority whose net disposable income continues to fall in real terms.

    I notice that Mark Carney has today described the “allegations” against RBS as “deeply troubling and extremely serious”. Um… yes, Mark. That’s right. Deeply troubling. Extremely serious. No-one could have imagined that a bunch of narcissistic solipsists would seek to maximize their profits even if it meant killing viable businesses. We’re all shocked. And troubled. And serious.

  • Let’s say the state can only reclaim £120m of student loan but the private sector through higher competence can reclaim £200m. We then sell that debt for £160m making a profit for both parties and everyone is happy?

    Of course, the person who took the loan isn’t happy but do we really think that the loans of people who “disappear” shouldn’t have to be repaid when everyone else did?

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov '13 - 11:34pm

    tonyhill

    You are absolutely right in your last comment Matthew, but cut David a bit of slack – he obviously wasn’t around in the 70s

    I’m sorry, he ought to know better. By repeating this rubbish he is doing these people’s jobs, he is supporting their lies. He DESERVES to be ashamed of himself for this. It doesn’t require much effort to find out how things REALLY were then. This idea that the Liberal Party was all about extreme free market economics then and the SDP was about socialism has suddenly grown up out of nowhere in the past couple of years, now one finds it repeated as if it were truth, and I am shocked to find it has reached the point where people who clearly don’t agree with the sentiment nevertheless echo the propaganda put out by those who do.

    It was not that long ago that us who were Liberals before the merger were dismissed as all “beards and sandals” types, too much to the left, too idealistic and green, not in tune with the real world of business economics, not like those sensible SDP types. Just how did it get changed so that youngsters now believe the opposite?

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Nov '13 - 1:29am

    Matthew, the author isn’t intending to re-write history, so your protestations are too much. Focusing on intentions should make you less angry, because intentions are nearly always good!

  • Thomas – there is an argument there, but it is nullified by the proposed ‘ synthetic hedge’, which as I understand it, would protect the investors against any losses. Besides, for a privatisation to be carried out, the odds really have to be stacked in favour of a profit being made.

    Matthew, I think it’s going a bit far to call it deeply insulting. Rather than comparing the two previous parties, I was instead referring more to the political ideologies of social democracy and classical liberalism in general. While there is much good to be found in the latter, it does have some roots in laissez faire economics. The Liberal party itself may well have stayed away from that (and I accept that you, having lived through that time, will know more about that than me), I think that quibbling about semantics rather detracts from the important issues at hand.

  • Hmm, just re-read my previous comment and it’s a bit of a mess – the perils of typing on a temperemental touch screen phone. Should be ‘strayed’ rather than ‘stayed’, and the last sentence should be grammatically correct. Which it isn’t at present. Please mentally rearrange and continue.

  • Can I gently intervene in this “discussion”. I think the important feature here is that both David and Matthew abhor the direction being taken economically by the current Lib Dem leadership (whether merely in support of Coalition Government or with a deeper agenda “to change the party”) I heartily concur with both, although I am currently taking a similar view to John Tilley, ie that some of us will need to pick up the pieces when the Party is ready to return to its roots. I have not “gone on strike” as matthew has, because again, if we do not intervene in the party, my view is that the Cleggites will win by default.

    Where I disagree with David is that the Free Trade model, from the 19th and early 20th Century was very fine and dandy when at least two-thirds of the world was either underoccupied, or occupied by people ignored or massively killed by the then European world dominators. Free Trade then had the virtue of bringing in low priced goods without the worry of the laws of economics intervening, or people protesting in more than a minor way. We no longer have that type of world, and whereas China and other mainly Asian countries have played the supplier role to the former colonisers, they now are in a powerful position, and they are making demands in return. In particular, of course, we have a resource and environmental crisis, and we have to recognise that with world population at the level it is now, and will be soon, there can be no continuous economic growth. This fact invalidates the whole assumptions of neoliberal, “Classical Liberal” theory and practice. It is simply not tenable now. We should be arguing this strongly, in addition to our fairness and equality and equity arguments we would make as Liberals anyway.

    So several related issues have blown huge holes in orthodox economic thinking (I am beginning to sound like the economics students trying to change their curricula, but to be fair, I have been making this type of argument on here for ages).

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov ’13 – 11:34pm
    Liberals before the merger were dismissed as all “beards and sandals” types, too much to the left, too idealistic and green, not in tune with the real world of business economics, not like those sensible SDP types. Just how did it get changed so that youngsters now believe the opposite?

    Matthew’s description here is absolutely accurate – these were the stereo-types that the media used for about twenty years.

    It is not easy in a few words to answer Matthew’s question , “Just how did it get changed so that youngsters now believe the opposite? “. There has been a change, and a dramatic one. David Gray would appear to be genuinely saying what he believes when he writes –
    “Rather than comparing the two previous parties, I was instead referring more to the political ideologies of social democracy and classical liberalism in general.”
    But David is very wrong to say that this is – “quibbling about semantics”because it goes t the heart of his original piece and to the heart of what is wrong with Clegg and the right wingers who have captured the leadership of the party in the last five years.

    David says in his original piece “the Liberal Democrats must be seen to be on the side of the … ordinary person. Tinkering around the edges here will not be enough. ” Matthew and plenty of others are in no doubt that they are on the side of ordinary people. But the leadership of the party do not send out quite such a clear message, “Tinkering around the edges” is a good description of how Clegg and others have dealt with the bankers. The dreadful mantra “We are all in this together” could have been designed to let bankers off the hook. That mantra covers up the reality that the bankers have continued to get even richer than they were in 2008 whilst their casino style madness is being funded by the rest of us. We have the reality of the bedroom tax and cuts in benefits and the forcing down of wages and the obscenity of zero-hours contracts. All of that is o pay for the bankers greed.

    Get-rich-quick corporate raiders and casino bankers have nothing to do with Liberalism – classical, laissez faire or any other kind of Liberalism. It is a myth and a misreading of history to suggest that Gladstone and his contemporaries were in the hands of monopoly capitalists – the opposite is the case. These nineteenth century Liberals brought in the factory acts to protect workers, protected trade union rights, introduced proper state schools free for all (now being undone by Laws and Gove); these nineteenth century Liberals invested huge sums of taxpayers money in public works, they insisted on clean water and the proper sewage systems that we still depend on today, they passed legislation to stop the adulteration of food and invested in basic public health measures. David Gray should not confuse nineteenth century Liberals with the weak-kneed Clegg School of Capitulation to Tory Bankers.

  • Hear hear, John!

  • Much as I agree with the spirit of this article the idea that Quantitative Easing is simply ‘pumping money into the banks’ is completely incorrect.

    Quantitative easing is when the Bank of England buys long term financial assets from banks and other institutions, which increases how much cash they have and yields on financial assets at the same time. The hope is that the money the bank now has from the sale of these assets will go into lending to businesses instead of being locked away in long term assets like government bonds.

    The misunderstanding (perpetuated by many parts of the press) that the government is simply giving money away to the banks is really unhelpful. Granted the fact that the banks can borrow money at 0.5% and then lend it a 7% to me for me car loan is seriously good deal for them though.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '13 - 10:40am

    David Gray

    Rather than comparing the two previous parties, I was instead referring more to the political ideologies of social democracy and classical liberalism in general.

    No you were not. These are your words “my perception is that the party is leaning far more in the direction of ‘Liberal’ (with a capital ‘L’) than ‘Democrat’.”

    The fact that you used the spelling “Liberal” and even pointed out that you had used a capital ‘L’ can mean only one thing: that you meant it to refer to the Liberal Party, that you believed the Liberal Party – of which I was a proud and active member – stood for the sort of policies which you denounce in your article, and which have always been abhorrent to me as well.

    While there is much good to be found in the latter, it does have some roots in laissez faire economics.

    This is a gross simplification. It is part of the re-writing of history in recent years that there has been a sustained effort to make out that 19th century liberals stood primarily for extreme free market economic policies, and that therefore they would endorse the sort of policies you denounce and I abhor. The reason this is done is to give a false credibility to those policies, to give them more standing by falsely linking them to the past, by making out those who propose them now are just the moral successors of those in the past who called themselves “liberals”. This is an Orwellian tactic, used to change the way people think by changing the very meaning of their language. That it has succeeded is demonstrated by the fact that you genuinely believed, as witnessed by your words ” ‘Liberal’ (with a capital ‘L’)” that the Liberal Party that existed up to 1988 when it merged with the Social Democratic Party stood for such policies, As others have confirmed, that belief is completely wrong. You have been fooled by these people, you have been led to believe something that real evidence shows is not anywhere near true.

    When I read what REAL 19th century liberals wrote, firstly I find it is very far removed from the shrill “greed is good, reward the rich” rhetoric which comes form those who are trying to fool you into believing they are the true heirs of 19th century liberalism. Secondly, I find they are writing in a very different context, where private corporations were almost all small local businesses, and power and wealth in society was more in the hands of the landed aristocracy and the established Church than in the hands of private business. It is therefore false to take words used to defend what they then called “free trade” in those days, and without acknowledging the different context, use then to defend taking power away from the ballot box and putting into the hands of global corporations.

    If the old Liberal Party REALLY believed in the power of cash over the power of democracy, as you allege, how come it preserved and sang every year that old song with the words “Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hands?”,
    to the extent that this song was regarded as the anthem of the Liberal Party, the one that was played at its demise when it was formally agreed to merge it with the SDP?

    Matthew, I think it’s going a bit far to call it deeply insulting.

    I do not believe so. By using those words whose only interpretation must be that you are accusing those of us who were members of the pre-merger Liberal Party, which includes myself, of being keen supporters of policies to “line the pockets of the rich” at the expense of everyone else, you are deeply insulting us. I AM deeply insulted that you should use words which accuse me of being a supporter of policies I abhor and which my abhorrence of led me to join the Liberal Party because I saw the Liberal Party at the time as an effective vehicle fighting against the Conservative Party and its support for such policies.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '13 - 10:48am

    Eddie Sammon

    Matthew, the author isn’t intending to re-write history, so your protestations are too much.

    He may not have intended to do so, but he has unwittingly become part of that process. I believe those of us who know the truth have a moral duty to jump on those who have been so fooled, to point out how they have become victims, how by their use of this Orwellian language fix, they are furthering the very evil ideology they want to oppose.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '13 - 10:54am

    David Gray

    Should be ‘strayed’ rather than ‘stayed’,

    No, it should be neither. The word “strayed” suggests that is what 19th century liberalism was all about, and if the 20th century Liberal Party did not adhere to it, then it was betraying its heritage. That is wrong. Perhaps you are aware of the term “useful idiot” which Leninists used to mean those who unwittingly furthered Leninist ideology and Leninist desire for complete power, by accepting and repeating Leninist propaganda terms without realising they were doing so. Now Leninism has died away as the dominant ideology, this one we are talking about has replaced it, and it uses the same disgraceful techniques to further itself. That in itself is enough to rule it out from being considered any form of “liberalism”.

  • OK, I didn’t expect this thread to become a discussion on the exact definition of liberalism (or indeed Liberlaism), but I’ll chip in my two penny’s worth here. Liberalism means different things to different people. Economic liberalism, classical liberalism, social liberalism – all very different concepts. We’ve even now got neoliberalism, a term I don’t particularly like, but it is nevertheless accepted as a byword for dogmatic capitalism in political discourse today.

    I consider myself a liberal, but also a social democrat. A man of the left either way. I dislike Clegg’s portrayal of the Lib Dems as a party of the centre – under Ashdown, Kennedy and Campbell (the three I can remember) I never got the feeling that this was the case. As I say in the article, if that is the direction the party chooses to go in, then it will no longer be the party for me (or, I suspect, a great many grassroot Lib Dems, most of whom are, in my experience, of the soft left).

    Gareth – thanks for your comment. You have, in a very short paragraph, done what politicians have consistently failed to do in putting forward a coherent case for QE. I’m yet to be convinced by it, but it all comes back to this problem of public perception.

  • Steve Griffiths 27th Nov '13 - 3:58pm

    David Gray

    ” I dislike Clegg’s portrayal of the Lib Dems as a party of the centre – under Ashdown, Kennedy and Campbell (the three I can remember) I never got the feeling that this was the case.”

    …and I never felt it was the case under Grimmond, Thorpe or Steel either (I can remember all six as well as Clegg), so we share similar views. I also share Matthew Huntbach’s frustration and the apparent recent attempt by some, deliberate or otherwise, (and I do not hold you responsible) to portray things differently to how things were until very recently, and we should know – we lived through it and witnessed it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '13 - 5:27pm

    Actually, when Clegg says “centre” he seems to mean right-wing on economics, but rejecting those old-fashioned small-c conservative things that used to be much more central to the Conservative Party than they are now. So it’s not really just “in the middle”, in fact it seems to be a determined attempt to push the party way to the right, and to try and disguise that with a few token social liberal things – only where those things don’t interfere with the broad push to the economic right, however.

    So, in some ways, Clegg is taking the line that most of us old-time Liberals always took, that politics cannot neatly be stretched out on a single spectrum. However, in the past most of us tended to think of ourselves as more an alternative left than “centre”. Clegg is taking the party down the road of being an alternative right.

  • Tony Dawson 27th Nov '13 - 6:01pm

    Mathew, you are suffering from an overdose of pedantry. I first joined the Liberal Party 40 years ago. I had a beard but no sandals. Like a good many in that Party I was a Libertarian leftist, a person who classically would be described by some as a ‘social democrat’. The Social Democrat Party (whose leadership I mostly found pretty ‘dodgy’ but whose membership I got on with rather well) were a group of people whose retreat from socialism meant that they were increasingly becoming either classically ‘Liberal'(David Owen) or ‘Conservative’ (John Cartwright) or a bit of both.

    It is clear to me that David Gray shares much of your analysis of what is currently wrong. Arguing about words to describe the past is not going to help us steer a better path in future.

  • David Gray,

    Jenny Barnes (first comment) nails it. The Lib Dems have experienced a stealth coup.

    How did this happen? Long story short: like so much else in Westminster the Party’s internal democracy and constitution simply isn’t fit for purpose.

  • Bill le Breton 27th Nov '13 - 6:55pm

    David, the commentators above are right to be frustrated (though not with you).

    The big revolution in Liberal thinking happened in the 1890s – yes the 1890s not the 1990s, with the development of New Liberalism (see Wikip). Have a look at ‘Liberalism’ by L.T. Hobhouse. You can read it in an evening.

    Clegg and Laws et al actually point back to before the New Liberals. Hence the confusion. Their Liberalism was discarded by young liberals a hundred years and more ago for reasons you express above.

    Then another considerable ‘evolution’ of New Liberalism (and the policy of the Liberal Party of that time) occurred around 1970 when some Young Liberals (YLs) took further forward ideas rooted in the C19th philosophy of T.H. Green, which had been the starting point for New Liberalism.

    These ideas are still expressed best in ‘The Theory and Practice of Community Politics’ – a copy of which can be found here – and takes an hour to read and a decade or two to really get the most out of 😉 http://www.crosenstiel.webspace.virginmedia.com/aldc/commpol.htm

    By the early ‘Eighties the Party was essentially united around this approach. Then came the launch of the SDP. Those from the SDP involved in local government generally took to Community Politics like ducks to water, although it irritated the hell out of David Owen, So, the Community Politicians had a very hard time with a certain type of Social Democrat partner – that is those who were Owenites and who very largely went off with him into the wilderness.

    Those from both ‘old’ parties who joined the new Party were almost exclusively committed to a philosophy that Hobhouse or Lloyd George or Beveridge or Penhalgon would have found familiar + an activism that was true to The Theory and Practice of Community Politics.

    During those years and up to at least 1997, new activists coming into the Party tended to express their Liberalism though campaigning alongside people to help them take and use power in their communities. This approach was NOT just an election technique, though it was so popular it led to electoral success, nor was it confined to campaigning on local Government issues. It was a way of campaigning inside and outside of political institutions and in an integrated fashion that saw no distinction between those different institutions.

    Liberalism, as then conceived and practiced, was this kind of activism. For instance I am sure if you asked Paddy what one book(let) you should read about Liberalism he’d say The Theory and Practice. All MPs elected on or before 1997 or perhaps even 2001 who came through the local government root practiced this form of Liberalism (and Liberal Democracy ), or employed campaigners to help them who did so – Don Foster, Andrew Stunell, Adrian Sanders , Iain Smith (for Ming Campbell) and Peter Chegwyn (for Simon Hughes and others) to name a few exemplars.

    The Liberalism of Clegg and Laws is not only pre-New Liberalism, it retains the taint of paternalism (expressed as old style managerialism) that Green’s philosophy, Hobson and Hobhouse’s developments and those of the practitioners of Community Politics reacted against when they saw its insidious influence in the pre-New Liberalismand in the so called moderate conservatism and moderate Labourism thought to reside close to the centre that Clegg now wishes to align with.

    What is frustrating to us old hacks is that somehow a new generation entered the Party (after 1997?) without being exposed to this kind of Liberalism and without ever having put it into practice in their communities. They see our resistance as a nostalgia for social democracy, which we find a travesty) when it is a continuing commitment to the Liberalism that evolved through New Liberalism, then the People’s Budget, then Beveridge and the Welfare State, into Community Politics: working with people in their communities to help them take and use power – their power; that power which has been appropriated from them by the ‘power hungry’.

    Judged by how well it has helped people take and use power in their communities, the Coalition has been less successful than it might have been if the Liberal Democrats in it had tried to pursue this type of Liberalism.

  • David Gray – what is your opinion on this?

    http://www.honoursstudentloans.co.uk/Application/AboutHonours/Default.aspx

    ???

  • I agree Matthew – although I’ve used them heavily in my comments, the left-right spectrum is not necessarily helpful, but as a means of boiling down political beliefs to something simple, it has its place to a certain extent. The Lib Dems and Tories seem like three parties to me – there is the ‘left’ of the Lib Dems (which you and I are a part of); the ‘right’ of the Lib Dems and the more moderate, socially liberal Tories (Clegg, Boles, Laws, Clarke etc); then there are the right-wing UKIP-sympathising Tory dinosaurs.

    Thanks for the insight Bill, much appreciated.

    Louise – I despair of it, I really do. I’m fully aware that the Labour, particularly under Tony Blair, continued with the Thatcherite doctrine of privatisation. Indeed, coming from an instinctively Labour-voting family, it was their worryingly illiberal actions combined with what appeared to be a comparatively compassionate set of policies from the Lib Dems at the time that persuaded me to ‘cross the floor’ of voting intentions, so to speak. But now I worry that all the good ground work that has been put in over the years is gradually being eroded by a group of people at the top who seem intent on changing the entire ethos of the party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '13 - 11:32pm

    Tony Dawson

    It is clear to me that David Gray shares much of your analysis of what is currently wrong. Arguing about words to describe the past is not going to help us steer a better path in future.

    Yes, I can see David Gray shares much of my analysis of what is currently wrong. That is what makes it all the more appalling that he is furthering the Orwellian attempt to rewrite history by those we both oppose. I don’t regard this as a trivial or pedantic issue. Orwell’s point was the idea that thought itself could be made impossible if the language needed to think it was taken away. I realise that David Gray didn’t know what he is doing, but now I hope he does and accepts he made a mistake, that he was fooled by the people we oppose.

    By getting their “line the pockets of the rich” philosophy labelled as “Liberalism” and making it seem it is historic and what many decent people in the past supported it gives it far more credibility than it would have otherwise. By writing out of existence all those things which Liberals did in the past that don’t fit in with this false use of “Liberal” that was in David’s original article, the true cause of Liberalism, that which I and others here have devoted so much of our time and money and energy to, is severely damaged. Unwittingly, by using this language, David was furthering the line of the Cleggies when they say all of us who don’t agree with their right-wing economics should get out of the party, us and all the votes we have brought to it in the past, all should go because it was just “borrowed from Labour”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '13 - 11:33pm

    David Gray

    But now I worry that all the good ground work that has been put in over the years is gradually being eroded by a group of people at the top who seem intent on changing the entire ethos of the party.

    Yes – so DON’T give them a false legitimacy by labelling them as “Liberal” and saying what they are doing is “Liberal”.

  • David Gray 27th Nov ’13 – 8:16pm
    The Lib Dems and Tories seem like three parties to me – there is the ‘left’ of the Lib Dems (which you and I are a part of); the ‘right’ of the Lib Dems and the more moderate, socially liberal Tories (Clegg, Boles, Laws, Clarke etc); then there are the right-wing UKIP-sympathising Tory dinosaurs.

    Have you noticed that there is a social class component here?
    The UKIP-sympathising dinosaurs will often be from less privileged Tory backgrounds (children of Thatcher).
    The rightwing clique in the Liberal Democrats like Clegg, Laws and Jeremy Browne went to posh public schools just like their chums Cameron and Osborne.
    Whilst not all Liberal Democrats of the left went to state schools, my guess is that the majority did.

  • Steve Griffiths 28th Nov '13 - 9:32am

    John Tilley

    “The rightwing clique in the Liberal Democrats like Clegg, Laws and Jeremy Browne went to posh public schools just like their chums Cameron and Osborne.
    Whilst not all Liberal Democrats of the left went to state schools, my guess is that the majority did.”

    Quite right John, but the point also needs to be made (as I did in the previous LDV thread entitled ‘John Major – Class Warrior’; here; https://www.libdemvoice.org/john-major-class-warrior-37139.html ), that the Lib Dem ‘rightwing clique’ (as you call them) currently in charge, will also have policy advisors as part of their team. Are these advisors also drawn from the same background/education and with whom they feel comfortable, or have they taken the wiser step of also including others who will have had different experiences of upbringing and state education and who know what living on modest incomes was like? The decision making process and policy formation would be so much more informed, accurate and enriched by the inclusion of Lib Dems with those experiences.

    My question from the previous thread remains unanswered.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Nov '13 - 10:27am

    JohnTilley

    The UKIP-sympathising dinosaurs will often be from less privileged Tory backgrounds (children of Thatcher)

    Yes, the issue with these people is that they cannot face up to the contradiction which is at the heart of the Conservative Party. On the one hand it gets much, perhaps most, of its support from people who are small-c conservatives in attitude, they are suspicious of change, they want thing to be kept as they are, they want a traditional-style England (even if to a large extent what they think this might be is bogus). On the other hand, the economic policies of the Conservative Party are the biggest force that has destroyed and continues to destroy all that is traditional and old-fashioned in our country. It is THE biggest force destroying UK independence, as it hands control of our country to global super-corporations to whom we must kow-tow. It is like the colonialism of old, except we are the exploited colony, and the corporations the imperialist masters. And, as with imperialism, the masters tell us it’s all for our own good, it’s necessary for progress and prosperity, it can’t be resisted because it’s the future, we must just knuckle down and accept it, and if we natives get uppitty, there’s plenty of coolie workers willing to take their place and work harder with less complaint for less pay and worse conditions.

    Anti-EU hysteria is a distraction to cover up this contradiction, to keep all that lot on board. So it’s made out that all the things they don’t like, all the change and destruction of old values (good and bad ones in liberal terms) are the fault of the EU. And, as these people tend to be rather stupid, they swallow it. They swallow it also because the political left in this country has become dominated by elite background trendy types who do not understand the fear lower down the class scale that leads to small-c conservative attitudes, and so do not know how to get through to people with that mentality and show them how they have been fooled, and in fact tend to regard people with that sort of mentality with utter contempt.

    The reality is that if you look at the backers of UKIP and its economic policies, UKIP just stands for selling out this country even faster to the global corporations by breaking up the limited defence we can have against them by international co-operation in the EU. UKIP does not stand for “UK Independence”. It stands for the opposite.

  • Bill le Breton’s potted history ( The Dummies Guide to Liberalism ) should be put on an A4 leaflet and delivered door to door. Especially the bit;-

    Bill le Breton 27th Nov ’13 – 6:55pm
    What is frustrating to us old hacks is that somehow a new generation entered the Party (after 1997?) without being exposed to this kind of Liberalism and without ever having put it into practice in their communities. They see our resistance as a nostalgia for social democracy, which we find a travesty) when it is a continuing commitment to the Liberalism that evolved through New Liberalism, then the People’s Budget, then Beveridge and the Welfare State, into Community Politics: working with people in their communities to help them take and use power – their power; that power which has been appropriated from them by the ‘power hungry’.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Nov ’13 – 10:27am

    Matthew’s comment is extraordinarily rich in insight and accurate analysis.

    “… the economic policies of the Conservative Party are the biggest force that has destroyed and continues to destroy all that is traditional and old-fashioned in our country. ”

    ” …it hands control of our country to global super-corporations to whom we must kow-tow. It is like the colonialism of old, except we are the exploited colony, and the corporations the imperialist masters. And, as with imperialism, the masters tell us it’s all for our own good, it’s necessary for progress and prosperity, it can’t be resisted because it’s the future, we must just knuckle down and accept it, ”

    This is a near perfect description of Ed Davey’s (George Osborne’s) recent sell-out on subsidised nuclear power stations. In an imperious sweep he tells Liberal Democrats (who have spent 40 years campaigning for the party’s policy of opposition to a new generation of nuclear) that they must just knuckle down and accept it.
    In the stroke of a pen Ed Davey has handed control of our country’s power generation to the global super-corporations, EDF and the Chinese State Company. Future generations will be forced to subsidise the folly of creating more nuclear waste in the UK for the benefit of these global super-corporations.

  • Steve Griffiths 28th Nov ’13 – 9:32am
    the Lib Dem ‘rightwing clique’ (as you call them) currently in charge, will also have policy advisors as part of their team. Are these advisors also drawn from the same background/education and with whom they feel comfortable, or have they taken the wiser step of also including others who will have had different experiences of upbringing and state education and who know what living on modest incomes was like?
    My question from the previous thread remains unanswered.

    Steve – a quick attempt to answer your question –
    One answer to your question would be to point to Clegg’s appointments to the House of Lords.
    Or you could do detailed research into the 20 or so special advisors in The Cabinet Office that he has appointed at great public expense.
    Or you could wait until next year when Donnachadh McCarthy’s new book on Lobbying is due to be published.
    If you cannot wait until next year, you could read Anthony Sampson’s ‘Who Runs this Place?’ – which is ten years old now but will give you a flavour of how the political elite in the UK is totally integrated with the multi-natioal corporations of the business elite.

    Or you could look up an old Guardian piece about Clegg himself. A quick excerpt here :-

    ” His half-Russian father’s grandfather was the attorney general of the Imperial Russian senate, and his great-great-aunt was the writer Baroness Moura Budberg. Maxim Gorky helped his grandma and his great-aunt escape. His best friend is the author Marcel Theroux, who texted him this week to gee on his schoolmate.

    Theroux’s brother Louis, the broadcaster and writer, was another schoolmate. Some of Clegg’s happiest memories include hanging out at the Hampstead home of another school friend, the son of writer and critic Al Alvarez. Clegg would go on to be a fact-checker for Christopher Hitchens and, as a teenager, wrote his own magical realist novel. “Words, words, words”, as the non-relative Chekhov wrote for a similarly bookish teenage character.

    But also luck, luck, luck. One of his jobs was secured by his family’s neighbour: former Tory foreign secretary Lord Carrington recommended him for a job in Brussels with the Conservative EU commissioner Leon Brittan ”

    So what do you think Steve?
    Do you think with a background like this Clegg has surrounded himself with some former pupils of a Peckham Comprehensive or some working class kids who had a stroke of luck and got to their local Grammar School?
    How many people who grew up in a Northern pit village do you think are advising Clegg on a daily basis?
    In fact how man people who grew up in Sheffield advise Clegg? Even from the posh bit of Sheffield where he was lucky enough to step into the parliamentary seat after it had been won by others?

    Clegg is quite happy for the lower orders to pound the streets, deliver the leaflets, raise money and do all those dogs-body jobs that his class always expect others to do for them. But don’t hold your breath waiting for him to ask such people to advise him on anything. Even if he did would you seriously expect him to listen to them? All the evidence is that he does not listen to the democratic bodies within the party, he ignores the decisions of the conference, he does not listen or even ask the parliamentary party (Commons or Lords) before launching into major public statements.

    On everything from top-down meddling with the NHS to bomb attacks on Syria he treats the party like some sort of unnecessary irrelevance. I for one would be fascinated to see it, if you or anyone else can point to some evidence of Clegg operating an enlightened policy of appointments from outside the magic circle of white, middle-class corporate lobbyists and former public school boys (and a few girls).

  • Steve Griffiths 29th Nov '13 - 11:21am

    John Tilley

    Thank you and I found your reply somewhat depressing, but nevertheless a very incisive summary of Clegg’s background. It was depressing because I suspect you are right that, even if he did include some advisors with ‘real world’ experiences, his record seems to date to be one of not listening or being incapable of doing so because of his background.

    I may yet still research the 20 or so advisors in the Cabinet Office while I wait for Donnachadh McCarthy’s book. No doubt that will also be a depressing read.

  • Steve Griffiths 29th Nov ’13 – 11:21am

    Don’t be depressed. Not long now until the general election.
    If Liberal Democrats have not booted out Clegg before then, they surely will do afterwards.

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Nov '13 - 10:50pm

    @ John Tilley
    I felt the weight of cynicism lifting from me when I read your post on 19th century Liberalism. Is Bill Le Breton’s book, the book you would recommend to someone like myself who would like to explore the history of Liberalism further?

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Nov '13 - 11:40pm

    @ Mathew Huntbach
    I have two points to make , both contradicting what other poster have said.

    I did not think your post was aggressive.If you were responding to something that I had posted, in a similar manner, I would view your response as passionate not aggressive. I value raw honesty and a passionate commitment to one’s core values.

    Expressing strong feeling can be good for us. . A palliative nurse who counselled the terminally ill, recorded the top five regrets of people coming coming to the end of their lives. The third most expressed regret was that they had not allowed themselves to express their feelings. By suppressing their feelings to keep the peace they never fully realised the person they could have become.

    I found David’s original post really interesting , especially because it stimulated some robust discussion and argument. The outcome has been that I have realised the level of my own ignorance about Liberalism and my need to rectify it. If I were him, I would find being labelled ‘economically illiterate’ a badge of honour. After all, the global financial melt down was caused by the ‘economically literate’.

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Nov ’13 – 10:50pm

    Jayne, I should apologise to you.
    ” Bill le Breton’s potted history ( The Dummies Guide to Liberalism ) ” is a figment of my imagination. It was based on is earlier comment.in this thread, which I fund encouraging and particularly well put.

    Having said that, I think we would all benefit if he were to write such a book. I will suggest it to him.

  • Jayne Mansfield 1st Dec '13 - 11:11am

    @ John Tilley
    Can you recommend a book that is a good starting point for me?

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